FC Pune City 1 – Delhi Dynamos 3
1) Marcelinho Breaks Suspension Record
The Brazilian had been a big contributor to Pune’s struggles early on in the season with moody spells interspersed with a rare goal or two. He seems to have lifted his play after the arrival of Phil Brown on the touchline, but the disciplinary issues remain and he picked up his fourth suspension of the season, a record for the Indian Super League. It will be interesting to see if he will still be around next season. Unpredictability over a player’s availability and temperament can disrupt preparations for games, and while his talent is undoubted, the Stallions will not want a repeat of the bad blood from this season.
2) Young Squad Bloom Late Yet Again
The Dynamos went on a six-game unbeaten run towards the end of last season to finish eighth in the table after a poor first half of the campaign. The pattern has repeated yet again this year and the squad have matched that sequence with one game left to play. Delhi have impressed lately and confidence in the squad has visibly increased. Pune were disrupted by injuries and Adil Khan’s suspension coming into this game, but the visitors played attractive football and took their chances well, something that was missing earlier in the campaign. Romeo Fernandes, who has struggled for minutes this season, came in for Nandhakumar Sekar on the right wing and put in his best performance of the season, scoring a goal and assisting another. If results go their way in the last round of fixtures, Delhi could end up sixth in the table and guarantee qualification for the Super Cup in March, something that was inconceivable only a month back.
Jamshedpur FC 5 – Bengaluru FC 1
3) Too Little, Too Late For The Red Miners
The expected playoff push for Jamshedpur after the international break never materialized and their fate was confirmed in an insipid performance against Chennaiyin in the previous game. While a trashing of one of the better teams in the country should not be glossed over, most of Bengaluru’s first team regulars did not travel with qualification already assured, and Cesar Ferrando will be asked a lot of tough questions in the coming days. The Red Miners scored four goals in seven frenetic second-half minutes to knock the stuffing out of Bengaluru’s youngsters, but what was telling was that Jamshedpur had not managed as many goals in five previous games in 2019, and this was akin to shutting the barn door after the horse had already bolted.
4) Reserves Get A Run Out For The Blues
Having guaranteed top spot with the win against Goa, Bengaluru chose to rest the big guns and travelled with a young squad. A few of the senior players who made the trip to Jamshedpur in Harmanjot Khabra, Rino Anto and Kean Lewis visited the Tata Football Academy in a nod to their stint there as youngsters. In the game itself, Bengaluru played well in the first half before spectacularly imploding in a crazy spell of minutes early in the second period. Given that Carles Cuadrat’s brief was to provide valuable top-flight exposure to those on the fringes, the Blues will not be too perturbed by this performance and will focus on preparing for the semi-finals. If Gurpreet Singh Sandhu were to be unavailable for any reason however, the Blues will have a big problem because Soram Poirei in goal had a shocker and the twenty-six year old showed why he has not been able to nail down a starting spot at any of his clubs.
FC Goa 1 – Chennaiyin FC 0
5) Jackichand At Home With The Gaurs
Jackichand Singh has been around the block for a few years now after first attracting attention with his performances for Royal Wahingdoh. He has moved from ISL clubs to I-League sides and back a few times since without ever cementing his place anywhere. An impressive season last year with Kerala, which included a goal against Goa, caught the attention of Sergio Lobera and he moved in the summer. He has worked on his technical skills with Lobera and combined with his pace and ability in one-on-one situations, has proven to be a thorn in defences all season. He provided three key passes and created two big chances in this game, and the ball to Coro that set up the winner was a thing of beauty. He is thriving at Goa along with Brandon Fernandes on the opposite flank and hopefully more national team appearances are on the horizon for both players.
6) Chennaiyin Sign Off On Worst Ever Campaign
The two-time champions went through the motions and ended their campaign with one eye on the AFC Cup qualifier against Colombo FC. If they do get through after two legs, and it is a BIG if, Super Cup qualifiers await them at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar. The side from Chennai will hope that March brings new tidings and better fortunes but it is hard to see where they will come from. The side do not carry a goal threat and for much of this game, Goa kept moving the ball around with Ahmed Jahouh attempting 123 passes, the most by any player in the league this season. They will be hoping that frontmen Jeje Lalpekhlua and C.K. Vineeth can hit some semblance of form as soon as possible. Else, more misery awaits them in the cup competitions.
Kerala Blasters 0 – NorthEast United 0
7) Serbian-Slovenian Strike Force A Big Flop
“A lack of goals has been the Blasters’ Achilles heel in previous seasons but both players tasked with that responsibility this season delivered. The jury is still out on Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic, but they have started well.”
So read my description of Kerala’s strikers after they began the season with a goal each in the defeat of ATK. It went pear-shaped soon after and both players have had underwhelming seasons. The goals have just not arrived, and they have looked inferior to most other foreign strikers plying their wares in the league. Kerala have a big recruitment task ahead in the off-season and if they want their fans to come back in the droves that they desire, proven goal scorers have to be at the top of their shopping list.
8) Poor Khosla Sees Debut Cut Short
Having already qualified for the playoffs, this was an opportunity for Eelco Schattorie to rest a few players and give youngsters some game time. Top scorer, Bartholomew Ogbeche was named on the bench, and Girik Mahesh Khosla was handed an ISL debut. It lasted all of twenty-seven minutes as Gurwinder Singh’s red card necessitated a change in tactics, and the former Minerva Punjab player was unfortunately withdrawn. NorthEast more than held their own even with ten men and teenage goalkeeper, Gurmeet Singh, got his opportunity to make a debut after an injury to Pawan Kumar in the second half. The Highlanders have depended on a small core group of players all season and it was heartening to see a few on the fringes get some playing time, Shouvik Ghosh being another to make an appearance. Khosla would have been hoping for more than twenty-seven minutes though and Gurwinder probably owes him an apology.
FC Pune City 2 – Mumbai City FC 1
9) Off-Field Problems Overshadow Strong End To Season
Pune capped off a strong second half of the season with victory against the Islanders. One loss in three months resembles championship form but the Stallions paid for poor results in the preceding two and ended the season in seventh place, which means that they will have to qualify for the Super Cup. Talk of the franchise’s financial troubles have been in the air for quite a while now and reports indicate that the management may release all the players before that tournament. They are obliged to put a team out though and it looks like the academy squad will be the one taking the field for the qualifiers. Iain Hume may have kept his record of having scored in every edition of the ISL with an 84thminute goal in this match, but it is highly unlikely he will be keeping that alive next season in a Pune shirt.
10) Mumbai Rotate Squad In Inconsequential Game
The result from the previous night’s game featuring NorthEast United meant that Mumbai went into this match knowing their final placing in the table and the identity of their opponents in the semi-final. Jorge Costa opted to leave out Modou Sougou, Subhasish Bose and Matias Mirabaje given that they were on three yellow cards each but played a strong eleven otherwise and the Islanders approached the game as a derby should be, despite the inconsequential nature of the encounter. They started more strongly and went behind against the run of play, and when Hume scored again late on, the score line did not reflect how the match had gone. Arnold Issoko’s late penalty reduced the arrears, but it was Pune who went home with the bragging rights. Mumbai now prepare for Goa, who have put seven goals beyond them this season without reply.
ATK 2 – Delhi Dynamos 1
11) Edu Garcia Provides Hope For Super Cup
ATK’s disappointing season came to an end with a victory that assured them of the sixth and final automatic place in the Super Cup. Needing only a draw to do so at the expense of Pune, Edu Garcia took it upon himself to do more and for vast portions of the game, seemed to be the only one in the pitch with the quality to influence proceedings. He powered home a header following an excellent cross from Pritam Kotal and then set up the winner for Ankit Mukherjee with a delicious ball floated into the box. There is no point in wondering if ATK would have done better if the Spaniard had been available in the first half of the season, but his form does provide the side with some belief to take into the Super Cup.
12) Delhi Provide Template For Eight Placed Finishes
The Dynamos finished their campaign in eighth place, four points off seventh and three ahead of Kerala in ninth. Which is exactly how things panned out for them last season as well. By losing this game, their six-game unbeaten run came to an end and it was probably fitting that they did not beat a similar run towards the end of last season. Delhi are providing a template for sides to follow on turning seasons around after a poor start. The aspirations at the club are surely higher though and while a policy of backing youth is admirable, the management have to ensure that they’re not playing catch up yet again next season. The players have gained a lot of experience over the last two seasons and they should be able to hit the ground running in the next campaign.